At last a sat phone and plan that suits me

After a fair bit of research I just purchased an Iridium Extreme on a Pivotel Classic Casual plan and am very happy so far. I'll do a quick write up for anyone who is interested. I have no affiliations etc. Just a consumer.

We are caravaners who sometimes travel to remote areas and do side trips with our tent. Sometimes I go on my own beach fishing (Coorong or Robe area) or looking for more difficult 4x4 tracks in the Victorian High Country or Flinders Ranges etc.

Thus, we need some ability to let our family know where we are, or when I am broken down, hopelessly bogged or in serious trouble. I may also take up shooting again so a device that can come with me is a consideration.

As a yachtie, I am familiar with EPIRBs and Personal Locator Beacons and decided they were good for life threading emergencies but not the less serious incidents like a breakdown. I also considered the Spot system which gets good reviews in Australia but attracts some scathing comments from users in the US. The inReach system looked good to me but when I saw the unit itself, I didn't like the size, shape and plastic feel of them.

I had previously looked at sat phones, but was put off by the price of the hand sets (I'm not eligible for the government subsidy) and in particular, the cost of calls.

Here's what I finally decided. The Iridium Extreme seems to get good reviews and is ruggedised (supposedly mil spec). It still feels a little "plastic" but is the sturdiest hand set I have seen. I managed to pick one up for the old price ($1,499). They now seem to fetch $1,699.

I went for the Pivotel Classic Casual plan. This gets me a normal Australian mobile number and it can make sat phone calls within Aus without having to add the international prefixes. Emergency 000 also works just like it does from a normal mobile. It can send SMS messages and although call costs are expensive, in-coming calls are at normal mobile rates to the caller and free to me. This means that if I want to call home, I just sent send my wife an SMS asking her to call me and it cost the same as calling my mobile.

The hand set has an SOS button just like an EPIRB. What you do is remove a rubber cap on the top of the phone and press a little red button. It gives you 30 seconds to cancel it before going into emergency mode. I have mine registered with Geos Alliance and programmed to call them and at the same time, send a SMS to a short list of family and friends. Both the phone call and text message contains my lat, long, alt, age of fix, number of satellites and how much battery the hand set has. It doesn't cost anything to register with Geos Alliance and they pass on your details to the Emergency response centre in Canberra, so its just like activating an EPIRB (I will be corrected on this if others have actual experience). I have requested an actual test so I will post an update if I have anything wrong.

The SOS button is also programmable. You can set it to call 000 or home or simply to send a SMS with your location.

When my short listed friends receive a text with my location, there is also a hyperlink that when pressed, shows my location on a map.

Here are the costs of the plan. Monthly payment $22. One-off connection fee $110. Calls included $0. Flagfall $0. Calls to Australian numbers, inc' mobiles, 13/1300, 1800 and voicemail $3.30 per 30 seconds. SMS messages $0.55. Calls to other satellite services are even more expensive ranging from $4.40 per 30 sec (Thuraya) to $19.80 per 30 sec (BGAN). Calls to 000/112 are free.

The reason this suites me is that I don't need to make sat phone calls to anyone. In a real emergency if one arose, I don't really care what the call rates are. So, once the initial costs are paid, it only costs me $22 per month and $0.55 for SMSs. The rest is at normal mobile rates if you accept my "text and phone me back" approach.

Set-up out of the box was easy and the phone registered itself with the Iridium sat system while standing on my back porch. Just be aware that the instructions that came in the box contained one wrong number (set up number for SMS) and I had to ring Pivotel to get the right one.

I have heard that some mobile carriers do charge more to call sat phones. I have only tested this with Telstra and the charges are exactly as Pivotel said they were.

I'm in a 12 month plan so if forumites know any better ones, I'm stuck for now.

Also no criticism is intended at other systems. This is just what seems to suite me.


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Reply By: Mark T6 - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 15:48

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 15:48
I have an old Iridium 9555A phone that I picked up for not much money......just use A Telstra SIM card from my wifes older style mobile.

Logs on to the Iridum network quickly and once on all good to go.

Just back from a Canning Stock Route trip and we used it to send a weekly text to the family.

Cost as as follows

SMS $1.25 (both ways)

Calls $4.00 a minute (both ways)

Expensive to use it a lot BUT ongoing costs ZERO......and costs for us to let the family know we were ok on the trip......$3.75

No plans / contracts and the phone cost me $400 on E-Bay
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Follow Up By: Skulldug - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 15:54

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 15:54
Thanks Mark,

I had read that you can use a Telstra SIM, post paid with roaming turned on. As we both have iPhones, I would also need an adaptor to make the micro SIM fit.
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Follow Up By: Member - Jack - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 20:12

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 20:12
Hi Skulldug

Is there an adaptor for those micro SIM cards? Can you let me know where they are available? I have just acquired a Motorola 9505a Iridium for a forthcoming trip and found that my Samsung phone has a micro SIM.

The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get. (Lewis Carroll-Alice In Wonderland)

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Follow Up By: Skulldug - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 21:29

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 21:29
I believe they exist but don't sorry, know how you get one.

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Follow Up By: dazza62 - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 22:03

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 22:03
Sim Card Adapter

Purchased one of these to use in my 9505A recently with the micro sim card from my Telstra Mobile phone.

Works well for the times I need phone service in remote areas.
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Reply By: Robin Miller - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 15:57

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 15:57
Thanks Skulldog

I have a question - in a semi emergency (not requiring 000) how much time or calls can you make.

This can be a weakness in a pre-paid phone.

I.E. if it was prepaid then it would stop when your credit runs out , but yours is not pre-paid so I presume you just keep running up a bigger bill.

I would presume that if you try to leave the phone idle for a few months (I.E. not paying the $22) then the connection fee would be due again.
Robin Miller

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Follow Up By: Skulldug - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 16:14

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 16:14
Hi Robin,

The plan I have is post paid so you can talk all you like and just pay the bill at the end of the month. My plan is $22 per month on a 12 month plan so leaving it idle still costs money and no option to suspend it.

One other problem with the semi- emergency scenario is how long some companies keep you on hold before answering the phone.

I agree with you in regard to pre paid when the purpose if emergency use. There is no way of knowing how long your emergency is going to take.
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Follow Up By: Member - Chris_K - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 17:00

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 17:00
Hi Guys

I don't think that any prepaid plans work with Sat Phones (?). Our Iridium 9555 is on a $40 casual post paid plan (i.e. I can cancel it at any time) and calls to the Sat phone are normal mobile call rates. Calls from the phone are expensive - but when you need it - you need it. Our casual plan just needed a full service SIM card - i.e. global roaming and 1900 numbers activated. I can cancel the SIM card at any time - and keep the same number provided I reactivate it every six months at a monthly cost of $40.


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Follow Up By: Skulldug - Tuesday, Aug 20, 2013 at 13:21

Tuesday, Aug 20, 2013 at 13:21

I need to correct the information I gave you above. Pivotel have advised me that there is no period and I can in fact call them and suspend the service any time I like and re-activate it next time I do a trip.

I think this makes it even more attractive.

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Follow Up By: Member - Chris_K - Tuesday, Aug 20, 2013 at 17:02

Tuesday, Aug 20, 2013 at 17:02
Hi Skull

When I did my research on Sat Phones - it seemed that the Pivotel guys also charged the $110 connection fee every time the phone was suspended, then re-connected...unless it was within 2 weeks (I think). Teleco's are all the same...they extract their pound of flesh, and unless it's an emergency, the normal mobile (when in range) seems the next best option! Of course if you use Sat Phones all the time, the "lock in" plans on offer seem ok.


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Follow Up By: Skulldug - Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 at 12:14

Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 at 12:14

That's the way I see it. If you do four trips spaced out across a year there would be no point in cancelling it.
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Follow Up By: Member - PJR (NSW) - Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 at 15:13

Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 at 15:13

I hope that you are talking about mobile phone prepaids when you said "I don't think that any prepaid plans work with Sat Phones ". We have a prepaid account with a balance of about 30 minutes (a guess) talk time. I purchased a block with the phone three years ago and anothe top up on a discounted price just before we went to the Simpson last year. As I said current balance is about 30 minutes chat time. No monthly fees at all. We do not use it for chatting just location GPS emails once a day to one family member. Then again I do not even take my mobile when away. I hate the bloody thing. Initial cost was about $500 after subsidy and a set up fee that I cannot remember how much.

But back to what you said. We have a prepaid satellite phone account.


PS If I got any facts wrong I am sorry but the grey matter isn't as sprightly these days. Too much poison.
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Follow Up By: Member - Chris_K - Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 at 15:18

Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 at 15:18
Hi Phil

Sorry - I should have been more specific! You are correct - you can't put a normal mobile prepaid SIM card in a Sat phone...only post paid.


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Reply By: allein m - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 16:20

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 16:20
I was wondering if Broken hill and towns around us like tiboburra come under the rudd black spot plan or is just going to be black spots in major citys

would be nice if we could use our mobil phones all over the wonderful land sadly i will never see the day
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Follow Up By: Skulldug - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 16:43

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 16:43
Are you referring to the government subsidy for sat phones? If you are, Tiboburra doesn't show up as having mobile coverage on the Telstra map. If I lived out there, I would apply for the grant, buy a sat phone and look for a plan with cheaper out going call rates.

If you are referring to election promises, I listen to what I hear and believe what I see. If its Rudd talking, I don't even do the first bit.
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Follow Up By: Skulldug - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 16:48

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 16:48
Sorry, that was meant to say allein m.
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Follow Up By: Mazdave - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 16:56

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 16:56
Telstra has mobile coverage in Tibooburra. I have used it quite a few times over the last couple of years
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Follow Up By: olcoolone - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 16:59

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 16:59
I think you mean the "Abbott" mobile phone blackspot plan..... thats OK there are many more who think Rubb can do no wrong. LOL

Didn't know there was a problem with phone coverage in those two areas, we always get phone reception their.

We could use our mobile phones anywhere in Australia..... but seeing it's a user pays system we would all pay with higher monthly fees and call costs.

Thats why the have the satellite phone subsidy scheme.
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Reply By: olcoolone - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 17:01

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 17:01
And another thing good about the Pivotel Iridium plans is it is the cost of a standard mobile call for others to phone your sat phone...... unlike some at $20.00 per minute.
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Reply By: Sand Man (SA) - Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 19:09

Monday, Aug 19, 2013 at 19:09
I'm waiting patiently for the release of the Thuraya Satsleeve in Australia.
This device turns your iPhone into a satellite phone by inserting it into the sleeve.
Cost is supposedly around the $700-$800 mark, which is still much cheaper than a separate satphone.

Thuraya Satsleeve


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